Leaders: Use your voice to enable others to do the same
Earlier this summer I came across the Oprah Winfrey Network’s aptly named “OWN Your Vote” election initiative. It caught my attention with the message that the only thing more powerful than our voice, is when we own it. This bipartisan initiative supports and empowers Black women to use their voice this election season. As a content strategist and business writer, I am accustomed to helping leaders articulate their ideas and express them in a way that will make an impact. However, Oprah’s message challenged me to think about how right now, in the face of a global pandemic, ensuing economic crisis and calls for racial justice, leaders have a responsibility to use their voice to amplify the voices of others.
Simply put, people in power have greater access to voicing their thoughts and opinions. It is time for leaders to not only use their voices in order to stand up for their values and guiding principles but to also actively promote a safe space for others to do the same. While this is relevant to the political sphere, it is also applicable in the corporate sector.
Why should leaders empower their employees to own their voices?
Organizations increasingly recognize the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion enable both an organization and its people to succeed. If employees feel a sense of belonging and are valued by their leaders for their unique contributions, they are empowered to become active participants in innovation, arrive at less biased decisions and drive forward the future of work. A 2020 McKinsey & Company report indicates that inclusion and diversity is a powerful enabler of business performance. “Companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger.” However, in order for the rewards of a diverse and inclusive workforce to be realized, employees need to feel comfortable in expressing their thoughts and ideas.
The disconnect between perception and reality
Research conducted by Accenture in 2020 indicated that “Two thirds of leaders (68 percent) feel they create empowering environments—in which employees can be themselves, raise concerns and innovate without fear of failure—but just one third (36 percent) of employees agree”. Clearly, there are both gaps in both perception and communication that need to be addressed.
What can leaders do right now to foster open communication?
1. Recognize that we are at an inflection point. We are at a unique point in history and business executives are facing one of the greatest leadership tests of their careers. As McKinsey points out “Not only must they protect the health of their employees and customers, they must also navigate far reaching disruption to their operations, plan for recovery, and prepare to reimagine their business models for the ‘next normal’.” The leaders who will be most successful are the ones who seek feedback and value the opinions and contributions of a diverse team.
2. Start with culture. The onus is on leaders to create a culture of open communication. This requires them to set an example so that employees are comfortable to voice their opinions or concerns without fear of negative consequences. People need to see their leaders actively listening and implementing change based upon their input.
3. Be an active ally. A leader can be an ally by both striving to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional efforts and supporting underrepresented groups. It’s up to people who hold positions of privilege to amplify the voices of those without the same platform. Good allyship is also rooted in partnership. Leaders need to make sure that the action they are taking has been vetted by the community they are serving and supports work that community is already doing.
4. Be a mindful leader. Going forward, successful organizations will require mindful leadership. Specifically, leaders will need to employ emotional intelligence and empathy. They must use inquiry, active listening, and effectively read social situations and body language. Above all, leaders must be willing to constantly learn and adapt to change.
Recognize that we are on a journey
Right now, society needs strong leaders, capable of taking bold action. Business executives need to recognize that it will be a journey to arrive at a new and better “normal”. By using their voices, influence and platforms, leaders have the ability to provide a safe space for others to contribute their voices. Only by promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion can leaders enable recovery and the reimagination of the future of work, which will benefit society as a whole.
References:  Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, Sarah Prince, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters”, McKinsey & Company, May 2020,www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Diversity%20and%20Inclusion/Diversity%20wins%20How%20inclusion%20matters/Diversity-wins-How-inclusion-matters-vF.pdf.
 Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, Sarah Prince, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters”, McKinsey & Company, May 2020,www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Diversity%20and%20Inclusion/Diversity%20wins%20How%20inclusion%20matters/Diversity-wins-How-inclusion-matters-vF.pdf.  Ellyn Shook, Julie Sweet, “Getting to equal 2020: The hidden value of culture makers”, Accenture, 2020,https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/Thought-Leadership-Assets/PDF-2/Accenture-Getting-To-Equal-2020-Research-Report.pdf#zoom=50.